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Rise in rare bird numbers in New Forest after efforts to protect sites

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RARE ground-nesting bird populations in the New Forest have been boosted this year by extra protection from rangers and public support, Forestry England has revealed.

The national park is one of the UK’s most significant breeding sites for lapwing, curlew, snipe and redshank, which have all been in decline for the last 25 years.

Across the country the number of breeding curlew, for instance, has declined by half over the period due to a loss of habitat, disturbance and predators.

Lee Knight monitoring the sensitive areas
Lee Knight monitoring the sensitive areas

In response, earlier this year Forestry England closed eight New Forest car parks close to the most significant nesting locations and invested in additional signage asking visitors to stay on the main tracks and keep dogs on leads.

A community awareness campaign involved district and parish councils spreading the message via newsletters and posters.

Forestry England and national park authority also staff carried out patrols close to breeding sites to advise the public and monitor the birds, with many reporting wider awareness of the issue among people this year.

New Forest keeper Austin Weldon said: “Supporting these birds involves a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s always uplifting to see them return to the Forest in the spring.

The curlew is among the birds affected (picture: Eli Rivers)
The curlew is among the birds affected (picture: Eli Rivers)

“From then on, we are on tenterhooks as they navigate so many different challenges.

“I followed many families of birds this year and the feeling when some of the chicks made it all the way to fledging, and I saw them airborne, was incredibly special.”

A PhD study looking at ways to improve outcomes for curlews in the New Forest also led a team of NPA rangers and scientists from the Fordingbridge-based Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust scientists to put in extra measures to protect birds from nest predation.

Elli Rivers, principal researcher, said: “The New Forest is such an important place for wildlife in the UK.

“We can be proud of the fact that it is the most significant lowland site for curlews in the whole country.

“If we lose them here the rate of contraction across the south will accelerate and they could, in just a few years, be totally eradicated.

One of the signs erected warning of ground-nesting birds
One of the signs erected warning of ground-nesting birds

“Put simply, supporting these birds here in the New Forest is critical to their survival in lowland England.”

Whilst the PhD research focuses primarily on curlews, it also observed other ground-nesting birds during the season and saw some fledging success amongst other species including lapwings and nightjars.

However, scientists and rangers have warned that the next few years remain critical for the rare birds.

NPA seasonal ranger Hannah Everett said: “This year has been a busy year attending the many sites of ground nesting birds and helping to inform visitors of the importance of these special and unique birds.”New Forest keeper Lee Knight added: “I spent a lot of time talking with the public at key nesting sites and many of those I spoke with were keen to do what they could to help these special creatures. We are very grateful for that support. Reducing disturbance is a key way we can all make a difference to their survival.”

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